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Woody biomass touted as key segment of energy solution

March 13, 2009
By MIRIAM MOELLER Journal Staff Writer

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MARQUETTE - "Woody biomass" was the most popular phrase at a workshop Tuesday focusing on harvesting energy from the Upper Peninsula's forests.

About 100 foresters, loggers, and representatives from governmental groups, environmental groups and conservation districts listened to seven presentations at the Peter White Public Library all focusing on biomass in the U.P.

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"We had an overwhelming amount of interest," said Maria Janowiak, outreach scientist for Michigan Technological University, who organized the workshop. "This is such a new industry; bioenergy and renewable energy will change the way we think about energy and forests."

Janowiak said the event was held to bring together anyone interested in the future of woody biomass in the U.P.

Presenters from Michigan State University's Agricultural Experiment Station, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Michigan Economic Development Corporation and Plum Creek Timberlands were included in the workshop.

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Bill Cook of MSU Extension in Escanaba opened the workshop, talking about the reasons for the world's many energy concerns: the instability of supply, rising costs, global competition and climate change.

"Our energy consumption is expected to rise," he said, adding that alternative means must be found to solve the demand in a sustainable way. "We're going to run out of fossil fuels. It's not a matter of should we - we don't have much of a choice."

According to the United States Department of Energy, he said, the trend of energy prices are not likely to go down and are increasing.

"Michigan uses the equivalent of 3.1 quadrillion BTUs of energy," Cook said. "87 percent comes from fossil fuels."

In Michigan, oil is mostly used for energy, Cook said, while nationally coal is the number one fossil fuel source.

As solutions to the state's dependency on fossil fuels, Cook cited using less energy, less fossil fuels and turning more toward wood or other renewable resources.

Using renewables or woody biomass will not only help the nation's dependence on fossil fuels but will also reduce carbon emissions, help the economy and reduce inefficiency, Cook said.

In a coal-burning plant up to 70 percent of energy produced is lost and goes out the smoke stack, he said.

"It's incredibly inefficient," Cook said, adding that a combined heat and power plant can capture 60 to 70 percent of the energy - making it much more efficient.

Wood could play a big part in new combined heat and power plants.

Cook said woody biomass could be part of the Upper Peninsula's renewable energy future because it's so plentiful. Michigan grows about 26 million cubic meters of wood each year.

"Do we have the wood out there? Yes," he said, though he added not all of it can be accessed easily.

Cook said 1 million cubic meters of wood could produce 50 million gallons ethanol and electricity for half a million homes.

With renewable energy and sustainability also comes a shift in thinking, Cook said.

"In the United States we ask: 'How can I buy the biggest, shiniest, cheapest thing?' ," he said.

With a shift in thinking perhaps the question should be: "How can we get the most out of what we have? The result: Adding value to local resources and pay attention to consequences."



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